News Wrap: Syrian state media reports major attack on rebels by government forces


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GWEN IFILL: Tensions inside and outside Ukraine ratcheted higher today, as lawmakers prepared to approve a new government.  In Crimea, pro-Russian demonstrators clashed with supporters of the protest movement.  Meanwhile, Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered surprise military exercises near the border with Ukraine.  We will get more on all of this right after the news summary.

The U.S. military’s top commander is warning the impasse on a security deal with Afghanistan could embolden the Taliban. Army General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs, spoke a day after President Obama ordered plans for a total U.S. withdrawal by year’s end.

Mr. Obama also spoke with Karzai by phone, for the first time since last June.

Today, Karzai’s spokesman played down any tension between the two.

AIMAL FAIZI, Spokesman for President Hamid Karzai: 2014 is the year of withdrawal of most of the U.S. forces anyway. And there was no such discussion of a complete withdrawal in the conversation as suggested in the media. Rather, the point was to provide for an orderly withdrawal, as already planned and already scheduled.

GWEN IFILL: The U.S. wants to leave about 10,000 troops in Afghanistan after 2014 to help train Afghan forces. So far, Karzai has refused to sign an agreement governing any troops who stay.

State media in Syria reported today the army ambushed and killed at least 175 rebels in a major attack. The official account said it happened south of Damascus, in the Ghouta area that’s held by the opposition. Syrian television aired this footage from the aftermath. It said the slain fighters belonged to an al-Qaida-linked group, and that some came from abroad. If confirmed, it would be one of the deadliest attacks by government forces in the area.

Another ban on same-sex marriage has fallen, this time in Texas. A federal judge today declared the state’s prohibition unconstitutional. But he postponed enforcing the decision pending the outcome of appeals. This follows similar decisions in Utah, Oklahoma and Virginia.

A top House Republican opened a bid today to overhaul the nation’s tax system, but it’s unlikely to advance this year. Republican Dave Camp chairs the House Ways and Means Committee. He called for lowering the top income tax rate from 39.6 percent to 25 percent. He’d also impose a 10 percent surtax on earned incomes over $450,000.

House Speaker John Boehner would not say if the party supports the bill, and he refused to discuss the details.

REP. JOHN BOEHNER, R-Ohio, Speaker of the House: Blah, blah, blah, blah. Listen, there’s a conversation that needs to begin. This is the beginning of the conversation. This — this — the idea of tax reform is to get our economy going again, provide better, more economic growth, more jobs, and higher wages.

The way you do that is, you bring down rates. And to bring down rates, you clean out a lot of the garbage that’s in there and the special interest issues that are in there.

GWEN IFILL: The last major overhaul of the tax code was in 1986.

That data breach at Target stores before the holiday shopping season took a hefty toll on the company’s bottom line. Profit dropped 46 percent in the fourth quarter, and revenue slipped more than 5 percent. The data breach allowed hackers to steal personal information on millions of Target customers. The company says it’s working to win back the confidence of those customers.

On Wall Street today, the Dow Jones industrial average gained more than 18 points to close at 16,198. The Nasdaq rose four points to close at 4,292. And the S&P 500 was up just a fraction at 1,845.

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